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Interview with NBA Player Jeremy Lin

Aired October 25, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET


MONITA RAJPAL, CNN HOST: Nobody seemed to want him on their team. But in February 2012, Jeremy Lin got the chance to start a game for the New York Knicks and took the NBA by storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) this guy that came out of...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) as we were just talking here...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jeremy Lin getting it done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) known just a couple of weeks ago is now one of the biggest stars in the NBA. (Inaudible).

RAJPAL (voice-over): From bench warmer to household name, he became the Harvard educated underdog who energized a tired Knicks team, scoring more points in his first five starts than any other player in nearly 40 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He changed the whole Garden. The feeling in here is amazing. It's just a great (inaudible) right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He played right here out of nowhere. It's a surprise, man. It's crazy. I'm glad. The Knicks finally winning.

RAJPAL (voice-over): Skyrocketing to becoming a rare Asian-American NBA star, Lin won fans globally from his ancestral homeland, Taiwan, to the sports mecca of Madison Square Garden and inspired a wave of excited wordplay that gave rise to Linsanity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I love it. Every day, Linsanity. Whoo!

RAJPAL (voice-over): Fast forward five months and despite playing just 35 games for the Knicks, the Houston Rockets snapped him up with his three-year, $25 million contract, bringing Lin back to one of the teams that rejected him before he became a star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think Jeremy's going to be a fabulous addition to the team. We welcome him. We like him.


RAJPAL (voice-over): This week on TALK ASIA, we catch Jeremy Lin in the first NBA preseason game in Manila and discover joining the Rockets has really been a new beginning.


RAJPAL: Jeremy Lin, welcome to TALK ASIA.

JEREMY LIN, NBA PLAYER: Thanks for having me.

RAJPAL: This is one of the -- this is the first preseason game outside the United States that we're seeing here in Manila. When you do these preseason type games, what does it feel like?

I mean, are you gearing yourself up for what could be a very challenging season?

LIN: Yes. I think we're tweaking, we're experimenting. I think that's the purpose of preseason, to be able to experiment a lot and then, from a player's perspective, you work on stuff during the summer and you come in wanting to be able to apply it to a game situation.

And so that's kind of what preseason is also for, to kind of get that experience before actually it really counts.

RAJPAL: And being outside of the U.S., does it give you that kind of distance that you need?

LIN: Yes, I think anytime you travel, you get away from your home and where you're comfortable and (inaudible) here in Manila, it's been pretty crazy, though. So but that's definitely a good thing because the fans, they appreciate the game.

RAJPAL: What are you learning about your game right now?

LIN: I think I'm learning just be aggressive, be myself. I think last year, when I threw a lot of ups and down and trying to figure out how to play within a certain role or a certain system, I think this year I know what it's going to be like, more so. And I'm just trying to go in with an attack mentality.

RAJPAL: What do you think are your weaknesses and strengths that you're -- that you are trying to work on right now?

LIN: I think my weaknesses that I've been trying to work on is my 3- point shooting, my left hand and my defense. And I think those are the three things that I really addressed over the off season. So I don't know if I'm ready to say that they're going to be my strengths, but I'm hoping that they won't be as much as a weakness as they were last year.

RAJPAL: Are you feeling more of a sense of stability now this is your second season with the Houston Rockets?

Is it more stable, you feel?

LIN: Yes, I think for the first time in my career, I'm returning to the same city that I was in previously, the previous year. So I know everybody; I know the coaches. I know the players and know the staff. And so it's definitely -- I think the more time I spend, the more I can call it home.

RAJPAL: Wherever you go, there's a lot of attention. But you're also playing with some big name players, such as Dwight Howard.

What does having a teammate like that do for you?

Does it take a little bit of the pressure off of you, the spotlight off of you so you can focus on yourself and your game?

LIN: Definitely. And I think it gives me a little bit more of a free mentality. I think when all eyes are locked in on you, you kind of feel like you're in this cage. But I think having James, having Dwight, they definitely take a lot of the pressure, especially from a PR standpoint, just everybody looking in. And it gives me a little more freedom to just be myself.

RAJPAL: When you got signed by the Houston Rockets, this is the team that had cut you before as well.

What was that conversation like with the GM when he said, OK, we want to give you this multimillion dollar deal? We want you back.

LIN: Yes. He was -- like he wouldn't stop apologizing. I was like, "It's fine, Mike. I understand."

I really wasn't offended because I understand the business side of things and so I understand from a -- you can only keep so many guys and the way the contracts work, guarantee versus non-guarantee versus partial guarantee, so it was a decision that made sense. If I was in his shoes, I would have to do the same thing.

So I wasn't offended.

RAJPAL: Are you finding you're making friends on the team?

LIN: No. I have no friends. No.


LIN: I mean, we're all getting closer to each other. And I think that's traveling, spending time with each other and joking around with each other. It's been nice to see, because a lot of times you -- obviously mandatory team functions are always going to spend time together, but we've been spending a lot of time off the court and just -- you know, we have free time and we're hanging out with each other. And I think that's the start of a good team.

RAJPAL: How different a feeling is that from what you've been through in the past?

LIN: I've been on teams where there's definitely a clear division or there's definitely hostility between player A and player B or between groups A or B. And I think for this group, we're all pretty -- relatively pretty young and we're all kind of -- we feel like we're in this together. And so there's definitely that aspect that helps (inaudible).


RAJPAL (voice-over): There's a moment when for a lot of players they would dream about the kind of attention that you received.

LIN: When I came out of nowhere? It happened overnight. It was a tough situation, not being able to fully be comfortable with everything that was going on.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) another superstar sports fans need to start following and introduce us to this guy that came out of nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as we were just talking on the break, (inaudible) center (inaudible) didn't even know who this guy was. Jeremy Lin, as we were talking about, placed with the New York Knicks and essentially one week he's gone from the bench to the (inaudible). He's (inaudible).

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: (Inaudible) Jeremy Lin, getting it done again for the New York Knicks.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: (Inaudible) another win on Wednesday. (inaudible) more on this amazing --

PEDRO PINTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kristie, another game, another win for Jeremy Lin. The point guard was virtually unknown just (inaudible).

BALDWIN (voice-over): (Inaudible) game that's bringing the Harvard grad off the bench. Now Lin has broken Shaq's record for the most points (inaudible) --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) the NBA this year and (inaudible) better at every turn.


RAJPAL: What is Jeremy Lin like today, compared to what the Jeremy Lin was like back in 2012?

LIN: Hopefully I'm a little more mature, I think, going through so much -- ups and downs, to be honest. And then kind of being on top and previously kind of being on the bottom, (inaudible) getting cut and just seeing every spectrum, every perspective from a basketball player's standpoint. I think that's given me a more holistic perspective on the career -- my career and life, I guess. So hopefully a little more mature.

RAJPAL: Where did you get the strength from to try and deal with all the ups and downs?

LIN: I think God has given me the strength in a lot of different ways and if you ask any of my family or close friends, they'll be the first to tell you how many times I was ready to give it up and walk away.

RAJPAL: At what point did you feel that you actually thought, you know what, enough?

LIN: Many moments. I mean, where there's a bad game or you get sent to the D League or you're kind of told one thing and then what ends up happening is kind of very opposite of what they had told you or me getting cut. Because for me, I think I would just want to be happy. So I felt like many times during my career I wasn't happy and I felt like I was definitely questioning whether this was for me or not.


RAJPAL (voice-over): There's a moment when, for a lot of players, they would dream about the kind of attention that you received, the kind of accolades and support from around the world. But it comes with a lot of baggage and a lot of expectations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lin, baby, number one.

RAJPAL (voice-over): What was that time like for you?


LIN: It was just like a blur. I was just trying to make it day to day. And I didn't really know what hit me. It was kind of like I was pretty overwhelmed. And so -- but I think the more time I am removed from it, the more I'm able to step back, the more I'm able to appreciate everything that happened.

But when you're in it. And when it's -- when it came out of nowhere, it happened overnight, it was just a tough situation for me, or at least with my personality, just not being able to fully be comfortable with everything that was going on.

RAJPAL: The interesting thing is, people will call you, at the time when that game with the Knicks, when you were the Knicks came in that -- in February 2012, people will have said -- and they did say -- overnight sensation, where did this guy come from? You know, big phenomenon.

But it wasn't an overnight sensation. You've been working to perfect and to work on your game for a long time, since you were a kid.

So when you heard overnight sensation, was it something that you thought -- what are you guys talking about?

LIN: I think the way it happened was very overnight from -- in terms of not necessarily like my skill level jumped overnight, I don't think my skill was any different. I think it just -- the opportunity came and then like from one day I was on the bench, about to get cut. And then the next day I was a starting point guard.

So from that sense, it was very 180.

RAJPAL: Tell me about how -- what it was like for you to be on the bench constantly, to watch team members, teammates play, not necessarily doing well, but playing, and you're on the bench, itching for a moment, just your chance?

LIN: Yes, I mean, I think that's definitely a very tough situation, especially an athlete being competitive. Everyone wants to help; everyone wants to play. Everyone wants to contribute. I think that was -- when I talk about a lot of those moments where I wasn't happy or contemplating giving it up, a lot of those were -- you're sitting on the bench and you're just like, ooh, like, you know, it's kind of like I'm talking to myself and the more I talk to myself, the worse it gets because it's just like -- you know, you -- a lot of thoughts go through your head as you're sitting there and you're trying to wonder, are they going to keep me? Are they going to cut me? What's going to happen? Just being very uncertain with your whole livelihood, I guess.

RAJPAL: So when then Coach D'Antoni turns around, says to you, OK, you're up, did you feel anything? Do you remember that feeling?

LIN: I was nervous as heck because I knew if I didn't play well, they were going to cut me. And then I wasn't sure if I was going to have another opportunity after that. So there's definitely a lot of thoughts in my head, trying to figure it all out.

But I think this is -- I talk about early how God empowered me, I think once I got on the court, I don't know why, but like the nerves kind of went away and that's not very typical of me, because I'm an overthinker. But in that instant, it just went away and I just started playing really comfortably and I can't really explain why or how. It doesn't really make any logical sense that I wouldn't be nervous in a situation like that. But...

RAJPAL: And then you make history.

And yet, the Knicks still don't sign you at the end of the season.

LIN: Yes, that's -- I think that's a more complicated issue and I think, at the end of the day for me, I don't -- you know, I don't know the -- their perspective; I don't think they know my perspective or whatever on the story. But it's OK, because I think at the end of the day everything happens for a reason.


RAJPAL (voice-over): How often, though, do you think your faith has been tested, and especially in the last 20 months?

LIN: Every day. Every day.




RAJPAL (voice-over): You're the NBA's first Asian-American player.


RAJPAL: What do you think of that title?

LIN: I think there's some controversy behind that, I don't know. I've heard different --


RAJPAL: All right. Then you're a very prominent Asian-American player for the NBA right now.

What do you think of that title?

LIN: I try not to think about it too much because I think that goes back to kind of the identity thing. And it's just like if I focus too much on that, I make that too big a part of what I'm trying to do then I think that gets me off track of where I need to be.

If that's what people see in me or if that's what people are gravitated towards or that's what people look up to, then that's great. But I think at the end of the day, I want to just be myself.

RAJPAL: Do you think that that stops you, that there has been a roadblock to getting you to a point where you are today and that it may have happened sooner otherwise?

LIN: Being...

RAJPAL: Asian-American.

LIN: -- Asian-American?

I've always said it's both. I mean, it's not any -- it's not really quantifiable in terms of how much harm versus good. I think at the end of the day maybe I had to prove myself more or maybe I had -- it was harder for me getting the opportunity initially. But then also the big reason why there's so much attention or the fame aspect or why so many more people care about the story is just there is Asian element to it. So it's definitely there's positives and negatives.

RAJPAL: What's interesting about you is that you've excelled at the sport from the get-go and that -- you know, you were state champion in California, still then, not scouted. Harvard, you played really well, still not drafted.

It's a difficult -- it's a difficult issue to address, isn't it?


LIN: It doesn't really matter anymore. I think it's just part of the story and I think, you know, my -- just naturally the story will bring awareness or exposure to the issue, but I used to hold like a big grudge against the people that would slight me and then, like, you know. And then I would get to a certain point and I'd be able to look and to like, ha, you made a mistake.

But it's such an empty feeling. It's really naive to think like that.

RAJPAL: Yes, but -- yes. The thing is though, I mean, it's in this day and age, for us to even have that part of a conversation, it still surprises me that these are issues that are still plaguing America.

LIN: I think at the end of the day, when you look at the NBA or NBA history, you're going to naturally draw conclusions or generalizations like you would with anything else in life. And it's not so much about what has been done or what the stereotypes were that kept me from or that hindered me. It's more just, OK, we're at this point now. How can we -- how can we push society in the direction that we want them to go towards, which I think is already naturally happening, not just with me. You have other players. You have Yao Ming, different players like that. We're just challenging the notion of what an NBA basketball player looks like.

RAJPAL: And then what about the fact that perhaps you're now part of a global, a bigger picture, the NBA's global campaign and the fact that you are now a representative and a -- some would say a role model -- for over a billion kids out there?

LIN: I think that just goes back to me trying to be as authentic as I can and trying to be genuine with what I say and what I do. And I think it's unique that so many people care or are tuned in. And I think it's important for me to try to live a certain way or try to play a certain way and -- for example, I think one thing I really want to focus on is just smiling more, having more fun on the court, being able to be joyful more often and not to be so controlled by good game, bad game, et cetera.

RAJPAL: The interesting thing I think about your story, what a lot of people perhaps feel connected to is that it's the American dream, isn't it? Immigrant parents raised kids, work hard. What was it like for you growing up in Palo Alto in California?

LIN: Yes, I think the one thing I really credit my parents for is that they really thought outside the box in terms of parenting.

RAJPAL: Because a lot of very Asian-American or Asian thinking is it?

LIN: Yes.

RAJPAL: To let your child do well in sports, for example.

LIN: Yes, I mean, my parents were kind of criticized and ridiculed by other Asian parents because we were playing sports so much. And other parents were kind of like, "what are you doing," why are you letting your kids do that. And then it's funny in that I got recruited and I ended up at Harvard and all the same parents came back and were like, "Oh, OK. So what sports should my children play to be able to get into college?" So it was kind of role reversal.

But I think my parents, the biggest thing was they really cared about us. They loved us and they saw how happy we were playing the game of basketball. And they were like, you know what? Like if they don't enjoy doing other things but they enjoy playing basketball, like let's go with it. And you know, I'm really thankful that they did because to be honest, if they didn't want to let us play, my career would have ended in middle school.

RAJPAL: Your parents, they're from Taiwan?

LIN: Yes.

RAJPAL: How much of the Taiwanese culture was part of your upbringing?

LIN: I would say definitely some but not all. I think just growing up in the U.S., I think there's certain things, you know, maybe it's not limited to Taiwanese culture. Might just be Asian culture in general, like loyalty to your family or respect for your elders, not that other cultures don't care about that stuff, but it's just an extra point of emphasis in Asian culture. And I think my parents did a great job of emphasizing faith, God first, school second and then sports third.

RAJPAL: How often, though, do you think your faith has been tested, and especially in the last, say, 20 months?

LIN: Every day.

RAJPAL: Really?

LIN: Every day. Yes, I think I'm not like, oh, am I -- should I believe in this or not or is this part of me or not, but it's more just like there's temptations every day; there's distractions every day. I have to fight my human side, whether it's pride or whether it's whatever it might be. There's always -- you know, there's always a constant battle going on in terms of trying to become a better person. I think that's true for everybody.

RAJPAL: I remember reading that you addressed a youth Christian conference in Taiwan, thousands of kids were there, young people were there. You were quite open about how much of a struggle it could -- it had been for you emotionally to deal with the ups and downs of the game that you're in and the fame that you've accumulated.

LIN: There's a lot of things that I guess society teaches or tells people that will make them happy and whatnot. And through my experience, going through lows and highs and Linsanity and signing the contract, I felt like me focusing too much on these other things kind of got my attention off of God. And I think that created this lack of fulfillment or lack of joy inside of me. And I felt like I was trying to be too much what everybody else wanted me to be.

RAJPAL: The era of Linsanity, which would have been 2012, was that a blessing or a curse?

LIN: It's definitely a lot more of a blessing, but I think -- I mean, it's just -- it's a pretty -- in terms of the question, it's just there's - - it's very positive. But with most everything, there's going to be negatives to that as well.

The possible are pretty obvious. And then the negatives are just when you're talking about -- it's a negative for my personality, but just like a lot of attention, a lot of spotlight, big shoes to fill. Fame, I guess, in terms of having everybody critique every little thing that you do or analyze every little thing that you do or say, those are all things that me and my family are getting used to.

But when you compare it with the positives, you know, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

RAJPAL: All right. Jeremy Lin, thank you so much for your time.

LIN: Thank you.